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Working hard: Thunderbird rookie prepares for CNFR

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Casper – A red Casper College Thunderbirds vest was worn by a modest, young cowboy as he competed for his buckle, and the hard work Zachariah Phillips of Hobbs, N.M. was rewarded with the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA) Rookie of the Year title for the Central Rocky Mountain Region.
    “I didn’t even know they had a Rookie of the Year, so I was really shocked to find out I was chosen. There are many kids in our region who could have been chosen just as easily, and that makes receiving the award a great honor,” says Phillips.
    Next, Phillips will compete for champion titles in both saddle bronc and bareback riding at the College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR) with his six fellow Thunderbirds from June 10-16 in Casper.
    To qualify for the CNFR, each competitor must either be ranked in the top three of their region at the season’s end, or chosen to be a member of the champion or reserve champion team. They also have another chance to go the Finals by being named the men’s or women’s champion or reserve champion all-around.
    Phillips qualified for the Finals by finishing second in bareback riding, as well as receiving reserve champion all-around, and he is given the chance to ride saddle broncs as part of his reserve-champion title.
The art of hard work
    Success at the college level would lead anyone to assume Phillips has competed for a decent amount of time. However, his time spent on a horse and in the arena has actually been very short – he has been a competitor in bareback riding for a year and a half, and in saddle bronc riding for two and a half.
    Phillips became serious about the sport of rodeo after attending a few different riding schools, including a saddle bronc riding school hosted and taught by Ed Beyers and a bareback riding school taught by Kelly Timberman of Casper College that gave the young man an interest in the two events.
     “If you do stuff right it, doesn’t take long to get it down. You can go to the very best, but if you are lazy it won’t work out. You have to put forth a lot of effort. You have to work hard, and most of all you have to want it. I have been blessed to be taught by the best of the best,” says Phillips.
    Not only did Phillips get a late start in comparison to most of his competitors, he also didn’t necessarily have the background that many of them had.
    “Dad was a pilot for over 20 years. He flew around a lot of steer ropers and trippers, and when I was little we flew around with them a lot. He owns a landscaping company now, and my mom is married to the foreman of a plumbing company in Oklahoma, but my grandparents run cattle and put up hay. Other than that, I didn’t really grow up around this lifestyle. We roped and rode, but I didn’t grow up like a lot of your average cowboys did,” says Phillips. “You have to bust your butt to the best. It is about being willing to put forth the effort to get where you want to be.”
    Phillips has always been an athlete, regardless of the fact that he hasn’t always been a cowboy. Growing up he was active in sports year-round, and one could say that his ability to be dedicated and to work hard started to show through.
Becoming a T-bird
    Phillips recollects that when he was getting his start in rodeo he visited Oklahoma Panhandle State University at the same time that Kelly Timberman was working with the college’s CNFR qualifiers. Timberman noticed that Phillips was hard-working and teachable.
     Timberman wasn’t the only who saw qualities that he liked. Phillips also saw that Timberman was very influential and had a positive attitude that helped him get where he wanted to be in his rodeo career, and Phillips desired to be like that.
    “Kelly believed in me. When he invited me up here, it was pretty much a done deal,” says Phillips.
CNFR prep
    “If you are physically and mentally ready for the ride, you won’t be beatable. Kelly has told me that it is about what you do at home and outside of the arena, not what you do when you nod your head. When you nod your head, you’re thinking of first place,” says Phillips.
    Phillips has been preparing mentally and physically with a strict routine to be ready for the Finals as they draw near. Getting up early and working out are some of his main priorities at this point in the game.
    “You have to be ready to start your day early. Slack starts at seven during the finals, and if you are not preparing yourself to be productive that early, you won’t be ready to ride that early. We also need to be in the best shape of our lives and be willing to out-work everyone in the nation. I am pretty pumped for the College Finals. Hopefully it will turn out awesome for Casper College,” says Phillips.
     Another technique of his preparation is to keep himself full of positivity at all times.
    “Whether it is a hopper or a yankin’ fella, you have to know that you are the best,” says Phillips, adding, “You can’t have any negativity in the gym or at the rodeo. As long as you stay positive you will be able to beat the competition.”
A champion support
    Behind every cowboy is a group of people who has helped him reach his goals, and Phillips is thankful for the support system that has assisted him in making his dream of competing in the CNFR become a reality.
    “I want to thank my dad for putting in all of the night driving and the effort to get me to where I was, and getting me to college. It is really paying off. And I thank my mom for keeping putting up with me as a kid. I need to thank Kelly Timeberman, one of my best friends, for all of his hard work he put into me. I also want to thank the team and Randy Hoag for training with me every day. Finally, I would like to thank God for giving me the opportunity to be my best. I am very blessed,” says Phillips.  
    Allie Leitza is an intern for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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